The Threat of a Cancelled Season Casts Doubt Over Domingo Santana’s Future with the Indians

Casey Drottar

Well, it appears we’re finally nearing a conclusion to MLB’s long and, let’s face it, embarrassing money fight.

Not a pleasant one, mind you. Commissioner Rob Manfred mandating a season at least confirms we have 60 games of baseball on this summer’s schedule. However, the lack of an actual agreement between players and owners ensures everyone will remain angry at each other for the foreseeable future.

Still, if there’s any silver lining to this, it’s that we now know how long the 2020 season will be. Yet, as we learned this past weekend, that ultimately may not matter.

As long as the coronavirus pandemic remains in the picture, the threat of a cancelled season will be right there alongside it. There remains a real chance that we finally see an end to MLB's ugly, often petty infighting and still not watch a single inning of baseball this summer.

The list of players a scrapped 2020 season would impact is lengthy, to say the least. Among those who’d feel the brunt of this is recent Cleveland Indians signee Domingo Santana.

Admittedly, Santana may not be the first player that comes to mind when considering the fallout of a summer without baseball. However, thanks to the structure of his contract, a cancelled season could create significant doubt when it comes to his future with Cleveland.

Santana was already experiencing a cool market heading into this season, as he remained unsigned until right before spring training began. Though he’s still in his prime and boasts significant power at the plate, his contract with Cleveland was for just $1.5 million this season.

Said contract also came with a $5 million option for 2021, one Santana may not get the chance to earn should the pandemic prevent MLB from getting the season off the ground.

To be fair, it seemed the chances of Cleveland picking up Santana’s option weren’t incredibly high to begin with, especially considering the financial hit the team faces after a season without ticket revenue. Still, a strong performance could’ve helped his chances.

Strikeout issues remain a concern with Santana (career 32.0% K-rate), and he’s certainly not going to win anyone over with his fielding (-37 defensive runs saved in 3513.1 outfield innings). However, he’s only two seasons removed from a breakout year at the plate, where he saw career highs in home runs (30), RBIs (85), ISO (.227), wOBA (.372) and wRC+ (127).

Santana appeared to be bouncing back from a rough 2018 season last year in Seattle before an elbow injury sapped his offensive production. For all intents and purposes, this coming campaign was his opportunity to prove he could regain the form he displayed in 2017 and convince Cleveland to pick up next year’s option.

Considering the situation surrounding the league, said opportunity is, at best, limited. At worst, it doesn’t happen at all.

What would the Indians do then? How would they handle Santana’s option if a cancelled season thwarts his ability to prove he’s worth the investment?

At first glance, odds seem to favor Cleveland just declining it.

Obviously it would be unfortunate to have to make that decision without ever seeing what Santana can do in an Indians uniform. However, offseason cost-cutting is a near certainty after a year like this.

Sure, you could make the argument that $5 million isn’t a massive amount of money in the grand scheme of things. That’s technically true even after a year like this.

Still, from the Indians’ perspective, that’s a significant price tag for someone you never got a good look at.

The fact is they showed their level of commitment in Santana from the get-go. By backing all but 23% of his potential earnings into a second-year club option, Cleveland made it known this was a low-risk signing, one it could easily back out of if it didn’t pan out.

Unfortunately, a pandemic preventing Santana from logging any playing time would qualify as “not panning out.”

It’s worth noting that, even if this outcome takes place, it wouldn’t completely close the door on Santana’s chances of sticking with Cleveland.

Should the Indians not get to see him play this year, they could always decline his option and attempt to ink him to another one-year, low-cost offer. Considering the lack of attention Santana received last winter, this scenario doesn’t feel terribly far-fetched.

Still, his preferred route is getting an opportunity to earn his 2021 option, no matter how many games it involves. The reality, though, is that even with a season now confirmed, there’s no guarantee it actually takes place.

Should that happen, should we endure this appalling squabble between owners and players only to watch a pandemic determine it was all for naught, Santana’s time in Cleveland could end without him ever taking a regular season swing with the team.